3 Ways To Revamp Your Company’s Meeting Culture

Leadership | Meetings

3 Ways To Revamp Your Company’s Meeting Culture
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Article originally published for Forbes Business Council and reprinted with permission.

As a general rule, people hate meetings. For many, they occur too frequently, take up too much time and accomplish too few results. The research backs this up: One analysis found that employees in the United States spent 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings, and a Korn Ferry survey reported that 67% of employees say that “excessive meetings keep them from getting their best work done.” At a time when employee engagement is dwindling and stress and anxiety are soaring, taming the meeting monster is increasingly critical to employee and company success.

As Arthur Brooks wrote in The Atlantic (paywall) last year, “One of the most straightforward paths to happiness at work is to fight against the scourge of time-consuming, unproductive meetings at every opportunity.” However, improving meeting quality can be challenging, especially in a remote and hybrid work environment.

Research from Microsoft found pandemic-inspired meeting creep led to employees experiencing a 192% increase in Teams meetings and calls each week, a troubling relic that continued unabated in a post-pandemic workplace. Whether in person or online, the costs of untamed meetings can be enormous. In addition to eroding morale, increasing fatigue and diminishing productivity, Bloomberg reports that "useless meetings" can cost large companies up to $100 million. Additional research by Otter.ai and Steven G. Rogelberg, Professor of Organizational Science and Management at UNC Charlotte, found that unnecessary meeting attendance can cost companies $25,000 per employee per year.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can tame the meeting monster, fostering teams with better morale, higher productivity, greater focus and elevated engagement. Here’s how:

1. Cancel some meetings. 

After years of clogging people’s calendars with recurring meetings or ineffective gatherings, a little “spring cleaning” can go a long way. Shopify, the popular e-commerce company, has shown what’s possible (paywall), canceling recurring group meetings, banning Wednesday meetings and mandating that meetings with 50 or more people occur during a six-hour window on Thursdays. As a result, the company removed thousands of events from employees’ calendars, freeing up time that can now be allocated to other priorities.

Introducing friction into the meeting scheduling process through policy norm-setting and other methods can help reduce meeting volume, allowing leaders to elevate the quality of the meetings that matter most.

2. Involve the right people.

Leaders often struggle with determining who should be involved in decision-making processes at various project phases. They overcompensate for this confusion by inviting everyone to participate in everything all the time.

Consider using a visual tool like an involvement map that indicates who needs to be involved at each project phase and to what degree. This map-like system can help leaders strategize their interactions with team members across the organization, providing a more structured, considered approach to meeting involvement by helping leaders think through their project and involve the right people at the right time.

3. Create Outcome-Focused Meetings.

Effective meetings are not about topics. They are about outcomes.

Start by identifying the meeting's purpose. Why are you bringing these people together to discuss this topic? If you can’t answer this question, it’s a good sign that the meeting shouldn’t be scheduled in the first place.

Follow this by identifying the meeting’s desired outcomes, shifting the focus from activity to results. Ask yourself, “What will I leave this meeting with?” The answer to this question should be specific, measurable and framed from the participant’s perspective. In this way, it’s easy to evaluate any meeting's effectiveness based on the decisions made, action items decided and outcomes achieved.

In other words, a meeting wasn’t successful because it happened. It was successful because of what it accomplished. At the conclusion of a meeting, you can look back and assess: "Did I achieve my outcomes? Are we leaving with something tangible?"

Finally, to foster continued meeting improvement, get into the habit of asking for feedback at the end of the meeting: “What worked?” “What could be different next time”? This allows for a quick litmus test on meeting effectiveness and fuels continuous improvement.

In conclusion, meetings have the potential to be a boon or a bane. As we navigate the complexities of the remote and hybrid work environment, it's time we reassess and reinvent our meeting culture to unlock the true potential of our teams.

The original Forbes Business Council article can be found here.

About Chris Williams

Chris’ experience includes work in operations, recruiting, and complex research. He has supported senior-level executives in a variety of industries including economic development, government contracting, and strategy consulting. Chris holds a BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.